Early Edition: January 4, 2021

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the weekend.

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past weekend. Here’s today’s news.

US ELECTION RESULTS

President Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday to “find” enough votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state, it was first reported by Amy Gardner for the Washington Post. The Post obtained a recording of the one-hour phone call, which has since been transcribed, “in which Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims, at one point warning that Raffensperger was taking “a big risk.”” Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel dismissed the president’s claims, stating that he is relying on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. They also made clear that Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in the state of Georgia was fair and accurate.

Trump’s call to Raffensperger might have violated state and federal laws that prohibit interference with elections, say several prominent lawyers, although the likelihood of any charges following is unclear, with a host of difficulties presented when prosecuting under state and federal law. Eric Lipton, writing for the New York Times, provides an assessment of the law and of the prospect of charges, citing a number of lawyers’ thoughts.

All 10 living former defense secretaries stressed in an op-ed for the Washington Post published yesterday that: “The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived,” said Dick Cheney, James Mattis, Mark Esper, Leon Panetta, Donald Rumsfeld, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Robert Gates, William Perry and Ashton Carter in the joint piece. They also made clear that “there’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.” Paul LeBlanc reports for CNN.

Eleven Republican senators and senators-elect said Saturday that they intend to vote against the joint session of Congress scheduled for Wednesday where President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is expected to be certified; the lawmakers are expected to propose an election commission to carry out an “emergency 10-day audit” of election results in the “disputed states.” Those in the group include Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Ron Johnson (WI), James Lankford (OK), Steve Daines (MT), John Kennedy (LA), Marsha Blackburn (TN) and Mike Braun (IN), as well as Sens.-elect Cynthia Lummis (WY), Roger Marshall (KS), Bill Hagerty (TN) and Tommy Tuberville (AL). “A fair and credible audit — conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20 — would dramatically improve Americans’ faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People,” the statement read, adding that Congress’ vote Jan. 6 is the “lone constitutional power remaining to consider and force resolution of the multiple allegations of serious voter fraud,” a move which Vice President Mike Pence seemed to endorse. Jake Tapper, Lauren Fox and Veronica Stracqualursi report for CNN.

The announcement by the group of senators and senators-elect follows news that around 140 House Republicans plan to contests Biden’s election victory. Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report for POLITICO.

Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) has privately given his support to an effort by a group of conservative lawmakers who intend to try and overturn this week’s certification of the election vote, despite opposition of such a move from a number of leading Republican figures, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Rep. Liz Cheney (WY) and the former House Speaker, Paul Ryan. “McCarthy, who has yet to acknowledge Biden’s victory and has said little publicly about the challenge, has joined two GOP conference calls in recent days during which the January 6 battle has been a subject of debate, including one on Saturday night and another on New Year’s Day.” Several of the conservatives indicated yesterday that McCarthy was part of the team and supported their planned action. Manu Raju reports for CNN.

“The rules of Congress’ Jan. 6 session governing the counting of Electoral College votes will remain identical to those used for decades, under a resolution adopted Sunday by the House and Senate,” report Kyle Cheney and Melanie Zanona for POLITICO.

A federal judge on Friday rejected a lawsuit brought by Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX) which challenged Biden’s victory; the case was again dismissed on Saturday by a panel of judges at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which cited the same rationale as the lower court — that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. Matthew S. Schwartz and Barbara Campbell report for NPR.

US DEVELOPMENTS

In their op-ed for the Washington Post, all 10 living former defense secretaries also urged Defense Secretary Christopher Miller and Defense Department appointees to fully cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. The group of ex-top defense officials stressed that transitions “often occur at times of international uncertainty about U.S. national security policy and posture. They can be a moment when the nation is vulnerable to actions by adversaries seeking to take advantage of the situation.” The officials went on to say that at a time when U.S. forces are engaged in active operations globally, “it is all the more imperative that the transition at the Defense Department be carried out fully, cooperatively and transparently. Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates — political appointees, officers and civil servants — are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited from the UK to the US to face charges of espionage and hacking government networks due to his mental health and suicide risk, a British judge ruled at the central criminal court. 49-year-old Assange faces a 17-count indictment in the United States for violating the Espionage Act over publications by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011 about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cable leaks, widely known as Cablegate. Elian Peltier and Megan Specia report for the New York Times.

President Trump is today expected to give Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, according people familiar with the plans. Ashley Parker reports for the Washington Post.

The outcome of the important Senate vote scheduled for tomorrow rests on the outcome of the two Georgian runoff races between Democrat Jon Ossoff against incumbent Republican David Perdue and Democrat Raphael Warnock against incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler which will determine with party controls the chamber. Al Jazeera reporting.

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has secured a fourth term as House Speaker following a 216-206 vote. Natalie Andrews reports for the Wall Street Journal.

US RELATIONS

Citing threats posed by Iran, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller confirmed in a statement yesterday that he had reversed course on an initial decision to withdraw an aircraft carrier from the Middle East region, instead directing USS Nimitz to the Middle East. Three days before confirming that the aircraft carrier had been directed to the Middle East region, Miller ordered that same carrier to be sent home, which was in direct contradiction to advice by top commanders who stressed the carrier should remain in the region amidst threats posed by Iran, officials said. “Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment,” the statement by Miller read, adding, “The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America.” No information has been provided on how long the carrier will remain in the region. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef report for the Wall Street Journal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned President Trump Saturday not to be trapped by Israel’s attempts to provoke a war between the US and Iran. “New intelligence from Iraq indicate that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans — putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli [act justifying war],” Zarif said in a post on Twitter, adding, “Be careful of a trap, @realDonaldTrump. Any fireworks will backfire badly.” Celine Catronuovo reports for The Hill.

Tens of thousands of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups marched and chanted in Baghdad, Iraq, yesterday over the anniversary of the US-led assassinations of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Maher Nazeh reports for Reuters.

Iran sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently stating that it intends to enrich its uranium to up to 20 percent “as soon as possible” at its Fordow facility, Iranian state television and the IAEA confirmed. AP reporting.

The Marines Corps is preparing for the rising challenges posed by the Chinese military in relation to island-based conflicts in the Western Pacific, with Marines training and practicing drills in Japan. “At one of a series of recent exercises, a few dozen Marines faded into long grass after touching down in two CH-47 Chinook helicopters, followed by Japanese soldiers arriving in two Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Their simulated mission: avoiding detection and recapturing a port on an island inside the range of much of the enemy’s missiles and artillery,” reports Alastair Gale for the Wall Street Journal.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 20.64 million and now killed over 351,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 85.20 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 1.844 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

The US government is discussing with drugmaker Moderna whether to give some people half the dose of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to speed up vaccinations in the country, Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine program, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We know that for the Moderna vaccine, giving half of the dose to people between the ages of 18 and 55, two doses, half the dose, which means exactly achieving the objective of immunizing double the number of people with the doses we have,” Slaoui said, adding, “We know it induces identical immune response” to the full dose. Brianna Ehley reports for POLITICO.

India yesterday granted emergency approval to its first vaccines — Oxford-AstraZeneca and homegrown Covaxin — as it takes the first steps in undertaking an unprecedented immunization program for the country of more than 1.3 billion people. Nuha Masih reports for the Washington Post.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are set to resume today in Qatar after a three-week break, officials confirmed today. Abdul Qadir Sediqi reports for Reuters.

Over 100 people have been killed in Niger following staged attacks by Islamic extremists in two Niger villages that border with Mali, Niger’s prime minister said yesterday. AP reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)